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Why Did Jesus Flip the Tables?
Do you know that God sometimes gets angry? God is not just some gentle, soft spoken grandparent-figure sitting up in heaven with casual indifference with what is happening here on earth. When the things of this world get twisted and radically distorted from what He has planned for it to be, it totally infuriates God! We see some of this in the life and ministry of Jesus. One must ponder that if Jesus got angry about what happened in the Temple back then, is the church today doing anything similar that could cause Jesus to be angry with us?
There are four places in Scripture where we see Jesus turning over the temple tables. From our study, one of these incidents occurred at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry as found in John 2:13-16, and the other three are synoptic (or, from the same incident) from Matthew, Mark and Luke. Though there are some notable differences between the early temple clearing and the latter one (mostly theological in nature (e.g., in John’s Gospel Jesus claims that the temple was HIS Father’s house), our time on this episode will focus on the similarities. And in doing this, we will key in on one of the three synoptic passages: Mark 11:15-17.
“On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (NIV84)
Let’s break down this passage.
- This took place right before the Passover feast, most likely during the Festival of Sukkoth (which commemorates God’s provision for Israel while they were in the wilderness).
- There was one place the Jewish people had dominion away from Rome; in the temple.
- Rome’s tolerance to the Israelite leaders, along with a desire to keep the temple pure, is the reasoning why there were money changers in the temple.
- There was only one form of currency accepted in the temple the Tyrian coinage – which were Jewish coins with no idolatrous human portraits on them (they felt that the portraits desecrated the temple and the purchase of the sacrificial animals.
- The Priests had to agree to have the money changers be in the temple, so this was not something that they did by themselves. Some have speculated (yet, not confirmed) that the Priests had a “hand in the exchange” of the money, which helped out their bottom line.
- We also see in this passage that Jesus overturned the tables of those selling doves (and we see in the synoptic Gospels, he drove out others that were “selling” items in the temple.
- Only here in this passage of the synoptics do we see that Jesus single-handed shut down the temple as a short-cut for traffic and travelers. It was common in those days to go from one location to the other in Jerusalem by cutting through the Court of Gentiles of the Temple, the place where the Market was set up.
- Jesus goes on to quote two different OT passages of Scripture:
- “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7)
- “You have made it ‘a den of robbers'” (Jeremiah 7:11)
Why, specifically, did Jesus flip the tables?
1. They were turning what was supposed to be God’s house of prayer into a marketplace!
- It was not just a marketplace, but a place where, supposedly those selling items/animals and exchanging currency were ripping off those trading and purchasing, thus the “den of robbers” statement by Jesus. “Thus the temple courtyard had come to resemble an outdoor market. Probably greedy merchants cheated their buyers if they could, especially during the feasts when pilgrims from far away crowded the temple area. However, it was that Sadducean priests permitted merchants to conduct business in the Court of the Gentiles, rather than how the merchants conducted their business, that provoked Jesus’ wrath.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary) Could it be that Jesus was upset at the Temple becoming a market place? Sure! Could it be that Jesus was upset that there was dishonest gain and “robbery” happening in the market place? Absolutely. Could it be that Jesus was upset that the religious leaders of the day were part of the problem in the Temple? Yes! Most likely, it was a combination of all the above.
2. The market cut off the gentiles from their place of worshipping the God of Israel.
- The Jewish leaders turned the location where the Gentiles were allowed to gather and worship God into a place of sales and thievery. The outer court or the court of gentiles was a promised worship location for the Gentiles, built specifically in the Temple for those outside of the Jewish faith to come and worship the God of Israel! Gentiles, due to the noise and commotion in their temple court, could not and did not have a place where they could come and worship God! They were supposed to be included, but were restricted by the practices taking place in the Temple.
3. The temple also became a short-cut for travel, not a place of worship, reverence and respect to the Lord!
Does this have any crossover applications to the church today?
Are we creating barriers in the church that distract people from worship? With the programming of today’s worship services, are we adding one or more barriers, or distractions, to worshippers today? Are we running economic endeavors in the church that prevent some from worship?
Are we distorting the collection of the offering by telling the church that a dollar in will yield 10 dollars out (God the cosmic vending machine)? Are church leaders promoting “Health and wealth” teaching as a means to enrich themselves? Are the church resources (including the money) being used in a wise, God glorifying way?
The church today should be an outward manifestation of the stewardship that is written about for the believer in the Word of God.
- What is written in the Word of God for the believer, is equally written for the church
- What is written in the Word of God for the believer, is equally written for the Pastor and Church Leaders to follow
Jesus made clear that “my house will be a house of prayer.”
Let us live and steward our resources in a way that brings honor to the Lord. Let’s consider bringing our churches back to being God’s “house of prayer.” If we do so, we know that will bring joy to the Father’s heart!
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